Quick Guide to Preparing Materials for Cross Stitch

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

If you’re new to embroidery, this quick blog explains how to prepare your materials for cross stitch. Taking the time to measure and mark out your fabric, protect the edges from fraying, and separate your threads will result in a much better finished piece. Let’s get started.

1. Positioning

Before you cut your Aida cloth (or other type of evenweave fabric) you should always consider how much space to leave around the finished design. This includes the negative space that will display around the stitched area, plus extra fabric for securing to a frame or fitting around a padded display board.

We suggest leaving at least 5-10cm around small pieces and 10-15cm around large projects — remembering that leaving too much extra fabric is always better than not enough.

The Royal School of Embroidery (UK) consider the negative space around the design as important as the design itself. If there’s too much negative space you will lose the detail of the embroidery, but not enough space will make it appear awkward and squashed.

quaker flower pot stitched in DMC orange and chocolate on white aida cloth

We only left about 4cm around this little flower pot because we are going to add a narrow border and attach to a small tote bag. You might notice that the edges are already starting to fray.

2. Edges

Aida cloth (and most even-weave fabrics) are very prone to fraying, so the edges will need protecting while you complete your cross stitch.

Fraying wastes your expensive fabric, but even more annoying are the long pieces of frayed thread that end up getting tangled with your floss.

different coloured aida cloth with frayed edges

There are a number of ways to protect the edges of cross stitch fabrics. These include:

  • Hemming (with an overlocker/serger or by hand stitching).
  • Zigzag cutting (using pinking shears).
  • Sealing (using a liquid seam sealant).
  • Binding (using thread tape or bias binding).
  • Fraying (using hand-drawing techniques).

If you are in a hurry to get stitching (or just can’t be bothered) you can also try putting some masking tape around the edges.

VIDEO NOTE: We usually ‘pink’ the edges of the fabric with a set of pinking shears before starting a project, but we didn’t bother on this little piece and it’s began fraying almost immediately.

If you like our cross stitched QR Code in the video, read our blog How to Cross Stitch a QR Code and learn how to make your own.

3. Centring

Before you begin stitching you should always mark the exact centre of both the Aida cloth and the pattern. Even if you want to start at the top (or from a major element) of the design, it’s still best to count this out from the centre.

The easiest way to find the centre of your fabric is to fold the Aida cloth into quarters, then mark the centre with a pin or soluble fabric marker.

Next go to your pattern and find the centre of the design too. Our patterns are marked with intersecting red lines and bold marker points at the top of the grid. If you’ve already printed your pattern in black and white, you can mark the centre with a highlighter.

We marked the centre of this black Aida cloth with a green pin. You could also use a soluble marker.

4. Threads

DMC 117 embroidery floss comes in 8 metre lengths that are bundled into skeins. Each 8-metre length is made of 6 individual strands, and these must be separated before stitching.

To separate the strands, hold up your DMC skein and find the thread tail that sticks out. Pull the tail out slowly until you have about 40-50cm of thread, then cut it off with sharp embroidery scissors.

You can then separate the thread by pulling single strands up and out slowly — until they are fully separated. Then making sets of two.

example of the strands in DMC thread for cross stitch embroidery
DMC 117 embroidery floss is made up of 6 strands, but you only need to use 2x strands for most cross stitch projects. Always check the Thread Key in the pattern for the exact number of strands.

You might notice in the photo (above) we definitely haven’t left enough space on the left margin. This happened because we didn’t bother to centre the fabric before starting.

5. Laundering

Before we close, just a quick word about laundering. If you are using white or ivory Aida cloth for your project, we don’t recommend washing the fabric before stitching.

Aida cloth contains a stiffening agent that makes it easier for you to hold and locate the stitching holes — and smaller projects can be worked without a hoop.

High quality Aida cloth is colour fast and if you pre-wash Aida cloth, the starch will wash out and your fabric will lose that stiffness and shape.

Once your project is complete you should handwash in soap and water to remove soil and oily residue from your hands.

PLEASE NOTE: if you are using coloured Aida or cheap thread, you might want to wet a test piece to see if the dyes run.

Did you know? There is no need to pre-wash DMC embroidery floss because the threads are double-mercerised. This makes the thread shiny, 100% colour fast, and fade resistent.

Stitch it Yourself

If you liked the little flower pot featured in our blog post today, why not stitch it for yourself? It only takes a few hours and you can experiment with different colourings.

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